Bubble bubble. Toil and Trouble!

Title: Thrice the Brinded Cat hath Mew’d By Alan BradleyPublisher: Bantam, 352 pp September 2016

Genre: cozy mystery, YA, British, historical, fiction

5 stars : Read in one sitting, as all previous books were, often late into the night

Author:

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto, Canada. After a career in television broadcasting, he retired from the University of Saskatchewan to write full-time. His publications include children’s stories, lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers and screenplays. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC radio and published in various literary journals. He was the recipient of the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature. 

The first in the series, “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” won the 2007 Debut Dagger Award of the Crime Writers Association in the UK; the 2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel; the 2010 Dilys, awarded by the International Mystery Booksellers Association; the Spotted Owl Award, given by the Friends of Mystery, and the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award, given by the Crime Writers of Canada for Best First Novel. It was also nominated for an Anthony Award, a Barry Award, and a Macavity Award. Sweetness made numerous lists and awards including the New York Times, as a Favorite Mystery of 2009, an American Library Association nominee as Best Book For Young Adults; a Barnes and Noble Bestseller. The audiobook version of “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” was voted Best AudioBook by iTunes. The books are all NYTimes best sellers. Don’t miss the audio books narrated by Jayne Entwistle- she is absolutely perfect, and in 2014 won Outstanding Audiobook Narration for The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. Academy Award-winning producer/director Sam Mendes, of “Skyfall” and “American Beauty” fame has optioned for Flavia for television movies (2012).

Story line:

This is book 8 in what I hope is a long series of sleuthing for our intrepid youngster Flavia De Luce. Yes, another cliffhanger so we know book 9 is in progress. Please read these in order as there is a good progression of character, friendships, sleuthing techniques, layers of personal history, and ‘in jokes’. My favourites are volumes 1,6 and now 8. A word of warning, have your hankies ready. If you love the Flavia stories you will definitely enjoy this installment back in 1950s England. Flavia returns without welcome as her father is gravely ill. In no time she’s off on trusty Gladys, in the usual English weather with the usual suspects. Fortunately there is a body and sleuthing commences.

Flavia has charmed me since the very first novel as has Bradley’s excellent writing. Flavia is still a fascinating, captivating, curious, quirky, beguiling, precocious 12 year old. Her observations are priceless. I enjoy the intricate mysteries that Bradley creates, here with interesting details of woodcarvers, witches, childhood storybooks, but Flavia is the reason to read. I love her clever mind. She is going to be an incredible, formidable adult! I can’t wait for the next book. The anticipation of each novel is exceeded only by the actual read. 

Quotes:

Gladys gave a little squeak of delight. She loved coasting as much as I did, and if there was no one in sight, I might even put my feet up on her handlebars: a bit of bicycle artistry that she loved even more than ordinary free-wheeling.

Life with my sister Daffy had taught me that you could tell as much about people by their books as you could by snooping through their diaries – a practice of which I am exceedingly fond and, I must confess, especially adept.”
Thanks to my Girl Guide training, I was able to bluff convincingly when required. All those wet and windy Wednesday evenings spent in cold, drafty parish halls were paying off at last.

How could I tell the dear man that murder made me feel so gloriously alive?

The DeLuce blood is stronger, afterall, then sentiment.

There is an art to staging a convincing accident. It is not as easy as you may think – particularly on short notice. First and foremost, it must look completely natural and spontaneous. Secondly, there must be nothing comical about it, since comedy saps sympathy.

The world can be an interesting place to a girl who keeps her ears open.

Read on: 

If you like Harriet the Spy or Lemony Snickett’s Violet Baudeleaire. Or are a Sherlock Holmes Fan.

Or listen to Jayne Entwistle narrate Julie Berry’s Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.

Laurie King The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Martha Grimes Belle Ruin series

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

Fall into a good book

Title: A Time of Torment by John ConnollyPublisher: Atria 480 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, series, Charlie Parker

5+ stars

Author:

John Connolly, born in Dublin, Ireland, studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper. He continues to contribute literary articles and interviews. He has visits Maine for over 20 years. The Time of Torment is the 14th Charlie Parker novel, joining a long line of exceptional writing, plot development and suspense. The first, Every Dead Thing (1999) introduced the former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow followed (2000) then The Killing Kind, (2001) and The White Road (2002). 2005 marked the publication of The Black Angel, The Unquiet, (2007) The Reapers, in 2008 The Lovers, in 2009, and The Whisperers, the ninth Charlie Parker novel (2010). The Burning Soul, was published in 2011, followed by The Wrath of Angels and The Wolf in Winter  2014. Last year I reviewed and highly recommended A Song of Shadows, the 13th Parker novel. 

In 2003, John published his first stand-alone book, Bad Men. Nocturnes, a collection of novellas and short stories followed and then Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2, the second collection of short stories. The Book of Lost Things, concerns fairy stories and the power that books have to shape our world. The Gates (2009), was his first novel for young adults. A sequel published in 2011 as Hell’s Bells in the UK and The Infernals in the United States, was followed by The Creeps. DreamWorks Studios acquired the Samuel Johnson trilogy for development. With his partner, Jennifer Ridyard, he has written Conquest, Empire and Dominion, in the Chronicles of the Invaders YA series.

Books to Die For, a nonfiction anthology co-edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke, won the 2013 Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Critical/Biographical Book of the year. His website: http://www.johnconnollybooks.com.

Story line:

As always John Connolly delivers an impeccable thriller. I still insist these need to be read in order, but know people who have started in the middle of the series, even with this book. They ALL go back the first novel. You don’t have the suspense of character development nor history with details that make the over arching story. Each book is a chapter in am amazing life.

This time we start in Maine and finish with a Cult in West Virginia. It could have been anywhere in the USA, particularly the Appalachians but also the West and Midwest, PNW. Connolly nails our culture of guns, violence, paranoia but also portrays intense loyalty, family and friends. The paranormal element is slight, tangible and believable. And ever present in the next book, as clearly there is much more ahead. Eager anticipation for every word.

Every book is well written, plot driven, meticulously researched and a joy to read, and reread. I always look forward to Louis and Angel. And now await Sam’s development. I own them all. Read them in one sitting, reread to ponder nuances. And leave the lights on.

Quotes:

The Collector had not seen Parker in more than a year, and was astonished by the changes in him. It was not simply the physical alterations wrought by his suffering, although his injuries, and his ongoing recuperation from them, had left him thinner than before, and his hair was speckled with white where the shotgun pellets had torn paths through his scalp. No, this was a man transformed within as well as without, and the unease that the Collector had always experienced in Parker’s presence, a glowing ember of concern, suddenly exploded into flame.

But it was his gaze that was most altered. If it was true what they said about the eyes being the windows to the soul, then Parker’s soul burned with a new fire. His eyes held a calm conviction that Dave had not seen in them before. This was a fundamentally changed man, one who had come back strengthened, not weakened, by what he had endured, but who was also both less and more than he once had been. 

….was good news for Portland’s better restaurants, once they’d grown used to Angel’s distinctive taste in attire and concluded that he wasn’t about to steal any of the silverware.

Sam was not what he had believed her to be. She was his daughter, and more than that: she was a being in the process of becoming, but what might ultimately emerge from that metamorphosis could not be foretold. If Sam knew, then she declined to say.

Parker could spend a lifetime hunting the servants, or he could find the master and destroy him.

Law and justice are not the same.”

He had decided that when he became governor, or world ruler—whichever came first—he’d pass a law forcing people to make and take all cell phone calls outside bars and restaurants, on pain of having their phones confiscated, or fed to them. 

For a moment, Parker thought he should have become a lawyer. He could have learned to live with the shame if it enabled him to own apartment blocks.

“I ought to warn you,” Parker told Louis. “They won’t have seen anything like you before.” “You mean black, or gay?” “No, just clean.”

The Fulci brothers rarely blessed the Porterhouse with their business. They preferred to avoid blighted institutions on the grounds that they brought their own trouble with them, and so drinking somewhere like the Porterhouse was like taking sand to a desert.

And then he saw the name attached to the academic reference, and a prickle of disquiet crept across him like the touch of a spider in the dark.

A dead king, then, is a kind of effigy, typically centered on the skull of a victim, but very rare, even in its most basic form, and the creation of one, as far as we can tell, is entirely the preserve of the most extreme of criminal groups or gangs.

Maybe sometime in the past, long before people knew about fripperies like proper plumbing, A/C that didn’t sound like a failing jet engine, and towels with a consistency softer than sandpaper, Dryden’s might have served as an acceptable rest stop for those with suitably low expectations, but it now belonged to another, distant century, just like smallpox and tuberculosis, although Louis wouldn’t have been surprised if a sample of some of the gunk behind the sink in his bathroom had revealed traces of both.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

Sometimes you can’t escape the claws….

Title: Escape Clause by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers, #9 )
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 400 pp October 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, suspense

5 stars

Author:

From Amazon author list: John Sandford is the pseudonym for the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist John Camp. He is the author of twenty-six Prey novels, most recently Extreme Prey; four Kidd novels; nine Virgil Flowers novels; three YA novels coauthored with his wife, Michele Cook; and three stand-alones, most recently Saturn Run.

Story line:

Virgil Flowers, my favourite investigator for the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), is back for another roller coaster ride. We moved from dognapping to catnapping- with endangered tigers stolen from the Mn Zoo. Everyone else is involved in politics at the state fair (leftover from the last Davenport Prey book). Virgil gets the short straw as body counts rise, brutal attack occur and bombs go off.

I always looks for the references of either Davenport or Flowers depending on the book series, and this doesn’t disappoint. I don’t think of it as a spinoff either, Virgil feels more like a real MN cop: tough, smart, long haired (farmer), quirky Midwestern boy. Love the cultural t-shirt references. He does the legwork, finds the clues, thinks through the larger pictures and gets his sociopath, without a gun, if at all possible. The cat helped. 

I read this in one sitting, relieved to be laughing more with Virgil’s engaging antics and comments. Several of the Flowers books have been very dark indeed. The Midwest realism works on all levels, from the swimming hole to the immigrant factory to the traffic. Small town life contrasts seething political issues, with good commentary and further thought. This book will not disappoint.

Read on:

To the first Virgil Flowers Dark of the Moon, or the Prey Series.

If you like Lee Child (Jack Reacher), Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch) or David Baldacci (John Puller) series. 

Quotes:

“You must be the famous Virgil fuckin’ Flowers.”

Virgil could feel his heart clogging up with grease as he finished the sandwich,

New Ulm was getting more like LA every single day, Virgil thought.

“Did you have a gun with you?” Davenport asked. “Yeah.” “You didn’t shoot it, did you?” “No.” “There’s the fuckin’ Flowers we all know and love,” Davenport said.

…..but they had the IQs of small rocks.

“It’s another one of your damn Twin Cities murders that you keep unloading on us,” the sheriff said. “If he’d dropped the refrigerator fifteen feet west, it’d technically be a Minnesota case, which it should be.” “You’re breaking my heart,” Virgil said.

“Why do your cases always wind up like this?” Duncan asked, running a hand through his hair. “Why can’t you have a straightforward missing-tigers case?”

….had physically frozen on a street corner. For nearly half an hour, he’d been unable to pick up a foot to move. Since it was St. Paul, nobody had noticed.

“I gotta think,” Virgil said. “I mean, I am thinking, but I’m not coming up with anything.”

“Beer, weed, and skinny-dipping,” Bill said. He sounded happy about it. “It is just sort of Minnesota in the summertime, isn’t it?”

“If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t believe it. With you, I think, ‘Yeah, probably,’ ” she said.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Will be available from Rochester Public Library.

Olympic reading

(faster, higher, stronger: Citius Altius Fortius)
Title: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

Publisher: Random House. 400 pp

Genre: non fiction, self help, team building

4+ stars

Author: Duhigg is an award winning reporter for the NYTimes (since 2013, previously he worked freelance). He studied history at Yale, MBA from Harvard. He is the author of the best selling and excellent Power of Habit (2010), about the science of habit formation. His books are well researched and informative. He has a clear writing style, if somewhat wordy.

Story line:

Subtitle is secrets of being productive in life and business.

There are 8 chapters including motivation, teams, focus (the best chapter), goals, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data. The appendix has readers guide, with suggestions. Each chapter includes a variety of stories/ examples, e.g. the marines, Disney, Detroit to airlines that reinforce the 8 concepts. I found them too detailed and not necessarily the best examples. It is overall positive thinking with helpful advice, often with suggestions which will appeal to particular individuals. Hence people will get different messages from this book. Suggestions need greater prominence, or brevity within the text. This is still a good reference book for team building and project management.

Bottom line? Take time to smell the roses too. Life isn’t all about being productive. I was probably the wrong audience for this book as I am already too efficient. Most of this seemed obvious, not secret. You need to set goals, focus on them, recognize choices, use discipline and better leadership to strengthen team efforts. And know you are never finished. In short (“cliff notes”):

1) frame decisions as opportunities, not problems

2) construct teams where positive interaction is crucial

3) engage with the vast data stream (recognize the difference between finding an answer, understanding what it means, and then incorporating it)

4) set goals that push you beyond the “to do lists”, and toward something large (stretch goals/ objectives that can spark outsized leaps in productivity)

Read on

If you like Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, Matthew Syed

Quotes:

These are the things, that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self-marketing. 

The need for control is a biological imperative. When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster….One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. Each choice, no matter how small, reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy. 

For psychological safety to emerge among a group, teammates don’t have to be friends. They do, however, need to be socially sensitive and ensure everyone feels heard. 

Teams need to believe that their work is important, feel their work is personally meaningful, clear goals and defined roles. Team members need to know they can depend on one another. But most important, teams need psychological safety…..

It’s important to manage how you think, rather than what you think.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Summertime chills

It’s a new book….if you haven’t read it! Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find. Title: Shadow Play Iris Johansen

Publisher: St Martin Press. 337 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, fiction, 

4 stars

Author:

Iris Johansen is a New York Times best selling author whose genres include romance, mystery/suspense and crime/thriller. She is writing the Kendra Michels series with her son, the Edgar award winning screenwriter and novelist, Roy Johansen. Her daughter Tamara is her research assistant. Shadow Play is part of the Cara Delaney mini series within the well written Eve Duncan series (first published in 1998). Her next stand alone is No Easy Prey (April 2017); Nightwatch (October 2016 with Roy). 

Story line:

Shadow Play is the first book in a trilogy, within the Eve Duncan series (and book 19 of that). The other two have recently been published, Hide Away and Night and Day, which is why I am reviewing now. Each of the books ends on a cliff hanger, and to me was not complete. Each installment is very good, there is satisfactory character development, action, adventure and more than a few sociopaths. 

Eve Duncan is a world renowned forensic sculptor who has helped many families find closure. Early books focused on the kidnapping and death of her young daughter Bonnie. Her quest for justice with her police detective, now love, provided fascinating, all too real, and compelling reading. They now live in rural Georgia but head to California to solve this crime (and over to Scotland and Russia for the next two books). There are elements of paranormal/supernatural in this series, communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts or understanding animals. It is still a relief to not have graphic sex or violence (although there are plenty of gruesome details) with a mystery, and the detailed relationships between Eve and Quinn as well as Jane, Margaret, Cara, Jenny and Bonnie are lovely. The series looks to continue strongly, with additional developments.

Read on:

If you like Kathy Reichs, Lisa Jackson, Kay Hooper, JD Robb, Karen Robards, Beverly Connor, Heather Graham

Quotes:

This child’s killer might only have been a shadow-figure, but it was malignant and evil and Eve felt as if she could reach out and touch him. 

Out of the blue, out of the darkness, those words had come to her. Weird. Imagination?

…When I work on a skull, it doesn’t usually want to have a conversation.” She shook her head. “Well, that’s not quite true, it did happen to me once before, and that may be why I got a little nervous. I was working on a very nasty, vindictive man who only wanted to bring me into his world and hurt me. 

“And I’ll tell Joe Quinn what you’ve said if it will make you feel better. I’m sure that dossier you have on me stressed Joe’s importance in my life. He’s very good at eliminating threats, real or otherwise.”

How could she tell him that it wasn’t his competence but her own fear that she’d be responsible for something happening to him? Joe was like a force of nature when he was on the hunt.

Margaret nodded. “Okay, here goes. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been able to communicate with animals. I can kind of merge and read them.” Silence. “Read them?” Nalchek repeated. “Read their minds?” “No, not usually. Oh, sometimes. It depends on the species.

His voice was soft, urgent. “I have so much love for you, Eve. I’m full of it, you’re my center. You always have been and always will be. If your Bonnie drifts away from you, I’ll just pour more of that love toward you. I’ll find a way to stop you from hurting. I promise you.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).


Shadows…

Thrilling Summer Chills

Title: Pop Goes the Weasel by MJ ArlidgePublisher: Berkley 426 pp (2014/2015/2016)

Genre: mystery, thriller, Helen Grace, psychological thriller, series, serial killer

4.5 stars

Author:

Arlidge (b 1974) has spent 15 year’s writing high drama, prime time crime series for ITV, British television. He recently started the Det Helen Grace series, now into 6 books. Pop goes the Weasel is the 2nd, and I confess I couldn’t wait and read right through five, (Doll’s House, Liar, Liar, Little Boy Blue) eagerly awaiting the publication this autumn of Hide and Seek. His writing is terse, spare in these dark, fast paced, gritty thrillers. The character development improves with each novel and secondary characters play wider varied roles. I find these addictive, in a most unpleasant way. These are not cosy mysteries as realistic events happen that will cause nightmares. They are all psychological thrillers that provide fresh angles to some truly horrible serial killers and their gruesome crimes. Although I think the first book was the most original.

Story line:

In Pop goes the Weasel, as in all, Det Helen Grace is committed to her job, still largely dysfunctional in society, keeps secrets, remains respected but not liked in the Southhampton Force, and can be trusted to never quit. These mysteries must be read in order for the personal history, character development and escalating tension. As it’s a series, I know she will survive, but each book represents a challenge as to what happens next. There are great narrative twists. Read collectively they are a roller coaster! It’s always a race against time to find the killer before there is a next victim. They are very fast paced, short chapters, with vivid descriptions of time and place. I will continue to read them to see Det Grace grapple with her life.

Read on:

Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Stuart McBride, Peter May

Watch Luther, Dexter, MI5, Broadchurch, The Tunnel

Quotes:

Opening line The fog crept in from the sea, suffocating the city.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

Get Thee To The Library!!

Title: The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanPublisher: Roc Penguin

Genre: mystery, time travel, science fiction, steam punk, fantasy, fiction

4 stars

Author:

This is the debut fantasy novel of the English writer Genevieve Cogman. The series continues with Masked City due out September, Burning Page December 2016; the fourth and fifth are already in progress. She has an MSc in statistics with Medical Applications and works for the NHS. It’s obvious her early reading included Tolkien, Conan Doyle and Pratchett. 

Story line:

Irene Winters is a professional spy (junior agent and immortal) for The Library, a shadowy organisation in between worlds which preserves (collects) unique fiction from all realities, alternate worlds. She and her new assistant Kai step into an alternative Victorian London to retrieve a dangerous book/manuscript by Grimm, currently owned by a bibliophile vampire. She is a spunky, loyal, smart heroine, raised in the Library system (both her parents still work there). From her first book retrieval I was captivated and loved her wicked sense of humour as well as her joy in reading. It’s a dangerous job on so many levels.

This is a fast, easy read that is clever, fascinating, exciting and imaginative. There are dirigibles, fae, vampires, dragons, werewolves, and Sherlock (aka the dashing Peregrine Vale, 15th Earl of Leeds). It is rather an eclectic mix of magic, Victorian mundane, steampunk tech and literary humor which makes you easily suspend reality. Initially I thought it was a YA novel with fast pace, simplistic story and technology, but i suspect it is more that it feels like a series. Strong world building, with detailed descriptions, interesting and numerous characters, convoluted twists with a short timeline (taking place in several days), will also make the next two novels easier. It would have also helped if I’d had read the appendix on agent handbook first. The mysterious library, a character in itself, balances the worlds between fae (chaos) and dragons (order) and gives humans a chance. I’m glad the sequels are coming out this year and will definitely pick them up. Especially as Irene is heading back to Victorian London, Kai gets kidnapped by fae, and…! 

Read on:

If you liked Samantha Shannon The Mime Order, Lisa Unger Ink and Bone, Shadow scale, Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate or Jasper Fforyde’s Thursday Next series

If you are a fan of Dr Who

Cogman highly recommends Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London 2011 (which I need to find).

Quotes:

but one of the Library’s mottos was borrowed directly from the great military thinker Clausewitz: no strategy ever survived contact with the enemy. Or, in the vernacular, Things Will Go Wrong. Be Prepared.

“Open to the Library,” she said, giving the word Library its full value in the Language, and felt the tattoo scrawled across her back shift and writhe as the link was established.

She just wanted—had always wanted—a good book to read.

It was about finding unique works of fiction and saving them in a place out of time and space.

But when she’d signed up for eternity, she hadn’t quite expected to spend most of it revising vocabulary lists.

He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility.

For the moment, we’ll have to assume he understands that we know all.” “All?” “We are the Library,” Coppelia pointed out.“What we don’t know, we research. Now tell me the rest.”

Librarian in Residence was a post of some responsibility. 

Or possibly possessiveness was a characteristic of draconic affection. They were supposed to be hoarders, after all. Not so different from Librarians.

The known worlds are ranged on a spectrum from order to chaos.

The purpose of the Library is to preserve humanity from either absolute reality or absolute unreality.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).